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Why is building a daily writing habit so hard?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Let’s do some math.

A typical Hardwick novel is about 70 chapters long. I could, with little effort, write one chapter per day during the week. With 5 weekdays every week, that means I could write and complete a new Hardwick book in 14 weeks, or a little over three months, with incredibly little effort. If I doubled my output – which I could do easily – I could release a new book every month and a half.

So why did it take me all of 2020 to write and publish one book?

The truth is actually rather simple: building a daily writing habit is hard work.

A life full of obstacles

Despite working from home and having almost 100% control over my schedule, finding time to write is one of the biggest hurdles of my job.

My goal in 2021 is to push my publishing career across the finish line so that I am publishing regularly and building a living doing so. I can’t do that without a daily writing habit.

What hurdles are keeping me from writing regularly?

  • Family interruptions. One of my kids is sick. My wife isn’t feeling well. I have to put one of the kids down for a nap. It’s not uncommon for something to interrupt my day and throw my schedule off.
  • Personal health and energy. I might be sluggish at work because I didn’t sleep well the night before – maybe my son was throwing up for a few hours, my daughter was up screaming, or I just couldn’t sleep. Or my stomach is bothering me and I can’t concentrate. There are plenty of reasons why my energy levels might be dangerously low, and putting words on the page just slips through the cracks.
  • Work gets busy. I’m very blessed to be a busy copywriter in 2021. The last couple years have been incredible for us from a professional point of view. And while I don’t want to be a copywriter forever, it’s paying very well and we need to keep paying off debts. Because it pays so well, it gets priority over other things. So when a project comes down the pipeline last minute or I’m behind on a deadline, I’m not doing anything else until I focus on getting those things done!
  • Writer’s block. If I’m stuck on a particular thread of a story that I can’t unravel, I’m far less motivated to open it up and work on it, you know?
  • Shiny objects. Hey, a new writing app! Oooo, a new computer! Here’s an app that lets me measure my productivity – I should spend an hour setting it up. There’s always something new to implement, and I fall into the trap of messing around with it in hopes of being productive down the line, rather than working and being productive now.

So these are the problems. What are the solutions?

Your game plan to build a daily writing habit

You don’t have to be vulnerable to these problems forever. Sure, they’ll win once in a while, but you can craft a game plan that will address the weaknesses in your writing game and put yourself in position to be prolific on a regular basis.

  • Schedule it. Every day, you have to put writing on the schedule somewhere. And then stick to it. Quit waiting around for inspiration to strike. You tell the muse where and when to show up, and then you be there, forcing it to start working.
  • Make it really stinking easy. My goal today is to edit three chapters in my new book series that I am developing. I can read and edit 3 chapters in a matter of minutes. I could load up my day with editing 10 or 20 chapters – and I would get that book released a lot faster. But I’m not in a good flow state yet. So I make the goals easy and achievable so that I can keep the progress moving even when it feels like a slog. I spent weeks writing Book 5 of my Hardwick series 10 minutes at a time. Whatever gets you moving.
  • Find a writing app and stick with it… or pivot quickly. I’ve written in every app known to man by this point. Any time I come across a new app, I like to try it out. But I won’t get writing done if I sit around putzing with new apps. Pick one and stick with it. If you want to move, move quickly. In the last week, I’ve moved all of my writing back into Scrivener because I like it, but the goal was to export and import all my writing very quickly – so that I can get back to work.
  • Use the right medium for you. Some people like special typewriters that only have tiny screens so you are forced to focus. Others like to write on pen and paper. Some use Chromebook, some use iPads. I’ve switched back to a MacBook Air and it’s really working for me so far. Whatever you choose – pick it for you. Pay attention to what works and double down on it.
  • Track it. I use a calendar and my whiteboard. You could use an app or a spreadsheet. You need to measure your writing every day, at least to hold yourself accountable. Once I have a “big picture” look at my writing, I can see when I’ve been slacking off for too long.
  • Let it suck. It doesn’t matter what I’m writing – if I’m starting out and not in any kind of flow state, it’s going to take me at least half an hour to get there. In the meantime, my brain and body are going to resist every step. I use Pomodoro timers to keep myself moving, and as long as I’m trying, it’ll break through soon enough. It just sucks in the meantime.
  • Build momentum. For me, momentum is everything. I’m far more likely to keep something going if I already have it going. That’s what my calendar is for: tracking the streak. Once I get a few days rolling, it becomes easier to convince myself to keep doing it.

What about you? What’s your favorite trick for keeping a daily writing habit going? Or what are your biggest obstacles?